- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- With 1 minute, 19 seconds to go in the third quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers' 106-98 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night, center Dwight Howard subbed in for Pau Gasol, who had been playing center in the Lakers' small lineup.
It was a routine move. Until it became the last time Gasol played in the game.
He wasn't hurt. He didn't ask to come out. New Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni simply felt Antawn Jamison gave the Lakers a better chance to win the game. And when Jamison fouled out with 2:12 to go in the fourth quarter, D'Antoni opted to go with a small lineup featuring guards Chris Duhon, Jodie Meeks and Darius Morris.
Asked what he was thinking leaving Gasol, the four-time All-Star, on the bench during crunch time, D'Antoni said simply, "I was thinking, 'Boy, I'd like to win this game.' That was the reason."
For the second straight night, Gasol had been ineffective. On Friday, he went 3-for-8 from the field, finishing with six points and four rebounds. On Wednesday night, in a loss to the Sacramento Kings, Gasol scored eight points on 3-for-10 shooting.
Asked about his fourth-quarter benching Friday, Gasol politely said, "I don't remember the last time that has happened in my career. It's not my call. I'm a professional. When my number's called, I'm out there.
"There must be a thought process into it. It's a coaching decision, and I respect it. Antawn was playing well, and then [D'Antoni] wanted to go with a smaller lineup and catch up."
While Gasol took responsibility for his poor shooting, he emphasized that it's hard for him to get into the flow of the game when most of his shots come from the perimeter.
"All my looks are jump shots," he said. "I would like to see something closer to the basket and not just rolling, especially when Dwight is there. But we'll see. We'll figure it out. We're just starting, pretty much."
Of the eight shots Gasol took Friday night, only one of them was within 10 feet of the basket. While he's generally a good midrange shooter, Gasol said he feels uncomfortable with that as a primary role and suggested the Lakers lose quite a bit when he doesn't get more looks in the post.
"I'm not a pure jump-shooter," he said. "I can stretch the defense out and make a couple jumpers. But how I get going is by getting in the paint and creating off the post, things like that.
"That's historically how I've been really successful and made a really good name for myself and earned my contracts. But hopefully I'll find a way and we'll find a way to get me a few opportunities there and get myself going in that way and be more effective."
Told of Gasol's comments, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant seemed to agree.
"It's a balance. If he feels like he needs to get more touches down there, then we'll get him some more," Bryant said. "It's still kind of a work in progress in terms of what we're doing and figuring out a balance and how we want to attack in the system."
When asked whether Gasol is being aggressive enough when he catches the ball on the perimeter, D'Antoni shrugged and said, "I don't know. You have to talk to him. He is what he is. Pau will make some shots. Pau will be fine."
D'Antoni said he thinks the issue is more about Gasol and his teammates adjusting to the pace and rhythm of his up-tempo offense, and less about where he's catching the ball.
"Our offense is all about rhythm, and we had some, sometimes, but we've got to maintain the rhythm of the game and we're not there yet," D'Antoni said.
Asked whether Gasol's conditioning is good enough right now to play at that tempo, D'Antoni said, "That could be questionable. You have to ask him. But he'll be rested for tomorrow, that's for sure."
Gasol admitted it's going to take time for him and the team as a whole to get into the kind of shape D'Antoni requires to play this style of offense.
"I think we all need to improve our conditioning if that's how we're going to continue to play, speed the game up a little more," Gasol said. "Maybe the rotations should be a little shorter. Instead of playing 12 minutes straight, maybe we play eight, rest four, get another eight. Maybe that will help. But again, that's not totally up to me."
Howard also has struggled to get untracked offensively in the past two games. On Friday, he scored just seven points on 2-for-7 shooting. On Wednesday, he had seven points on 2-for-4 shooting.
Asked why he and Gasol have been struggling of late, Howard paused then said, "You watched the game like us. I think you can put a finger on it. We've got to do a better job of getting position. Get the ball down there and go to work."
4dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann